Anatomy of a cigar – binders and fillers
If you read our blog about the cigar wrapper, you know that it’s the stylish outfit the cigar puts on. Dressing up a cigar in a nice wrapper makes it look good and adds a lot of character to the smoke. But what’s hiding underneath that beautiful exterior?
The two main components that make up the inside of a cigar are the binder leaf and the filler leaves. Each leaf in a cigar makes a big impact on the cigar as a whole. Let’s take a look at how the binders and fillers make your smoke a pleasure to puff.
Binder leaves – the cigar’s unsung hero
Binder leaves don’t get a lot of attention from cigar aficionados because they are not a crucial component to the flavor of the smoke. That doesn’t mean that they don’t play an important part.
The leaves used for binding tend to come from the middle of the plant. These leaves have less color and flavor than the others and can be rougher to the touch. Because of this, they don’t get the same care and curing that the other leaves do.
The binder leaf needs to retain a bit of moisture so that it is still pliable. The master cigar roller will lay out the binder leaf and stretch it out on the board. Then, placing the cigar’s filler tobacco’s on the leave, the roller carefully wraps the binder leaf around the cigar, pressing it tightly to maintain a uniform thickness and density. The binder is essential for keeping the fillers in place and upholding the structure of the cigar.
Once the binder leaf has been put in place, it is sealed with a little bit of vegetable gum or a similar adhesive and the cigar is put into a mold. The binder is essential to the cigar as it compresses the filler tobaccos which ensures a nice, even burn and it also creates a smooth surface for the wrapper leaf.
While it may not add a lot of flavor, that binder leaf is essential to a great cigar.
Filler leaves – the heart of the cigar
The innermost leaves in a cigar that make up the bulk of the stick are called filler leaves. Filler leaves are chosen for their flavor and burning qualities. The filler leaves chosen can dictate the overall strength of the cigar. While the wrapper creates the look and feel of the cigar and can also affect the flavor, it’s the filler leaves that do the heavy lifting. Good filler leaves are dark and oily and have the capacity to burn slowly and evenly, creating a desirable smoking experience.
There are two forms for filler tobacco that are commonly in use. These are:
Long filler tobacco are whole leaves that are rolled together by hand to create the cigar. The leaves are laid together in a fan pattern. This method is typically preferred because it allows for an even burn and consistent flavors throughout the smoke.
Short filler tobacco is made up of small pieces of chopped tobacco. Usually short fillers are mechanically created and are intended to be part of a machine-made cigar. However, they can also be created from some of the leftover portions of a long filler cigar or it can be an intentional method for blending in a handmade cigar. The resulting cigar will have more air in between all of those small tobacco bits which can lead to it burning a bit hot.
Different leaves on a tobacco plant can be used as filler for cigars. By choosing specific leaves, the master cigar blender can create the exact strength and flavor for his cigar.
Ligero filler leaves come from the top portion of the tobacco plant. Because they get the most sunlight, these leaves develop a lot of oil and burn slowly. They also have the strongest flavor of the 3 types of leaves.
The Seco leaves come from the middle of the plant. They are known for providing an even burn and medium strength and flavor.
The leaves at the bottom of the plant are called Volado fillers. Because they get the least amount of sun, they develop lighter flavors. Less oily than the other 2 styles, these leaves burn faster.
There are many variables for any master blender to consider when putting together the filler for a cigar. Mixing different ratios of Ligero, Seco, and Volado leaves controls the strength and the burn of the cigar.
Geography and blends – the magic of the cigar
Different tobacco varieties from different locations all have distinct flavors and strengths. Cuban tobacco will give a cigar flavors that are very different from plants grown in the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua. Even if the seed strain is the same, the unique growing conditions in each location like the ground minerals and strength of the sun will give the plant its own flavors.
Considering all of these variables, a master blender will choose filler leaves to create a recipe for the cigar. The plant variety, the growing location, and the leaf variety (Ligero, Seco, or Volado) all bring different qualities to the overall smoking experience of the cigar. Some blenders can find different combinations to create a consistent flavor and strength, but using a single recipe is the best way to create a cigar that gives the same flavors, burn, and experience each time someone lights one up.
Binder and filler tobacco leaves do the work that you experience, but may not see in a cigar. When you get a good, even burn and a long ash, those are signs that you have quality ingredients inside of that wrapper.
If you’re not sure which styles you like, a cigar sampler from Thompson Cigar is a great way to discover your personal taste. As you try different smokes, look them up to see what kind of leaves are making up the wrapper, binder, and filler. Eventually, you’ll start to find consistencies in the cigars your like and you can explore those favorites in-depth.